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Scrambling from the pocket, LSU quarterback Danny Etling (16) is pulled down by the shoulder pads as Syracuse defensive lineman McKinley Williams (98) makes the stop during the first half of LSU's football game against Syracuse Saturday Sept. 23, 2017, in Baton Rouge, La..

ADVOCATE STAFF PHOTO BY BILL FEIG

LSU’s offense is in shambles.

Its starting quarterback was benched (then re-inserted), its starting running back is injured and its offensive line is struggling to block.

The good news: The Tigers won.

LSU’s defense kept it close in a sluggish first half, running back Darrel Williams had 135 yards of total offense and the Tigers got enough from their inconsistent offense in a 35-26 ugly win over Syracuse on Saturday night, a sometimes woeful outing in front of a partially-filled Tiger Stadium.

"I know it wasn't pretty and exciting," LSU coach Ed Orgeron said afterward, "but I know we won."

Coaches sat Danny Etling for part of the second half in favor of freshman backup Myles Brennan, tailback Derrius Guice was held to 14 yards and the offensive line's woes resulted in a personnel change. 

In the end, the Tigers extended an incredible 17-year streak. LSU has now won 49 consecutive nonconference home games, a run that dates to a 2000 loss to UAB.

This one was oh-so ugly, and it was in doubt late.

The 25th-ranked Tigers (3-1) nearly gave up an 18-point third-quarter lead against the Orange (2-2), and they needed a late touchdown drive to secure the win — only after recovering an onside kick.

The frustration was heavy on this night, especially after that 30-point loss to Mississippi State last week.

“What are we doing???!!!!!” tweeted former LSU safety Jamal Adams during the fourth quarter.

The Orange and its fast-paced offensive attack amassed three drives of at least 10 plays against defensive coordinator Dave Aranda’s group, including an 80-play march to pull within 28-26 with 5 minutes, 40 seconds left.

Tight end Foster Moreau recovered an onside kick after that touchdown, and the Tigers — with Etling back in as its quarterback — went 56 yards on seven plays, getting a 20-yard touchdown run from receiver DJ Chark to seal it.

"I was a little nervous, ain't going to lie," receiver Stephen Sullivan said. "I knew when we got the ball, I knew we had to make a play. Offense had to step up and make a play."

Orgeron and offensive coordinator Matt Canada made their quarterback move in the second half, but Orgeron insisted multiple times after the game that Etling is the Tigers' starting quarterback. 

Brennan entered with about 8 minutes, 46 seconds left in the third quarter and LSU leading 21-10. He and Williams marched the Tigers down the field for a touchdown and a 28-10 lead. Williams ripped off runs of 11 and 20 yards, and Brennan hit the senior running back for a 43-yard reception, too.

"Danny is our starting quarterback," Orgeron said afterward, delivering the line during his opening address to reporters, before questions were asked. "Wanted to give Myles a chance when the game was on the line ... to see what he can do."

Brennan's second series resulted in a safety, as Williams was tackled in the end zone, and the quarterback's third series ended in an interception — one that receiver Drake Davis took blame for afterward. Syracuse then scored back-to-back touchdowns, converting a fourth down and getting some nifty passes from quarterback Eric Dungey, who carved up the Tigers for 265 yards passing. 

On offense, LSU failed to do something they’ve always been so successful with: run.

Through the first three quarters, they rushed for just 89 yards — this from a team that had recorded a 100-yard rusher in 13 straight nonconference games. That streak was snapped.

LSU finished with 156 yards rushing on a 4.3-yard average.

"Their defensive line was penetrating," Orgeron said flatly when asked about the rushing woes.

Guice, cleared on Thursday to play, did not play in the second half. He was limited to eight carries for 14 yards, while playing at less than full strength. Orgeron said afterward that his running back was "fine."

LSU trudged its way through a sloppy first half offensively.

The Tigers gained 10 yards on 10 plays in the first quarter, and they had 71 yards on their first 25 plays before Etling hit Sullivan for a 43-yard touchdown pass and a 14-3 halftime lead.

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The offensive line’s pass-blocking woes from last week’s loss at Mississippi State carried over to this week. They were bad enough that O-line coach Jeff Grimes made a personnel change in the second quarter, pulling freshman right guard Ed Ingram and replacing him with redshirt sophomore Adrian Magee.

"Too much penetration," Orgeron said, "Danny was under duress all night. Syracuse defensive line won."

The Tigers didn’t cross into Syracuse territory, on its own, until the final two minutes of the first half. 

Said F-back JD Moore: "Poor execution on our part. They ran a lot of really complex pressures and movements, which is tough especially with young offensive linemen. We had to adjust to that and we finally did."

Said center Will Clapp: "We just got to do a better job of picking that stuff up."